BIOGRAPHY - Arthur Delaney (1927 - 1987)
Arthur Delaney was born into a theatrical family on December 9, 1927 in Chorlton-on-Medlock district of Manchester, England. Before 1838, Chorlton was a small township adjacent to the Medlock River, but as industrialization became increasingly dominant, it was incorporated into the city limits, subsequently becoming a center of textile production. Rural laborers flocked to the city to work in the textile mills, and the once bucolic village was transformed into an overcrowded district filled with poor-quality housing and no sanitation. By the time Delaney was born, it was a polluted, run-down neighborhood whose primary virtue was cheap housing.
His mother, Genevieve Delaney, was a music hall dancer who performed with her sister Mary Kelshaw under the name of Delaney and Lee. It is likely that Genevieve met Frank Randle, then performing as an acrobat and comedian under the name of Arthur Twist, on the music hall circuit. Randle began his theatrical career in 1916 at the age of fifteen and gradually built a successful career as a music hall comedian. His uniquely risqué style of comedy allowed him to establish his own touring company, Randle’s Scandals, just shortly after his son’s birth. Throughout the 1930s, the company played to large audiences across the UK. In 1940, Randle branched out into film production with Somewhere in England, a “war film” featuring Private Randle. Over the course of the next thirteen years, he would produce ten films in association with John E. Blakeley of the Mancurian Film Corporation. Randle retired in 1953 due to ill health and died in the summer of 1957. Whether or not he participated in his son’s life in any significant way remains unknown.
Arthur Delaney began working in the textile industry at age thirteen in 1941, the early years of World War II. He was lucky enough to be hired by a textile design studio rather than having to work as a factory production laborer. Whether he had already shown artistic talent is unknown, but he would definitely have learned design skills on the job. In 1949, he married Joan Campion, his childhood sweetheart with whom he had four children.
Delaney remained at the textile design studio for 32 years, but at some time during his tenure there, he began to paint, perhaps in the 1950s. Few of his paintings are securely dated, but the development of his style is evident. A City Street, Manchester, painted in oil on board, seems to be quite early; the tone is dark and slightly ominous in this image of workers housing beneath smoke-filled skies. Another small painting, entitled Manchester street scene with figures and carriages, suggests that the artist may have considered the possibility of painting historical city scenes rather than contemporary life.
One of the artist’s most important influences was the work of Laurence Stephen Lowry, a fellow Mancurian painter (1887-1976) whose images of contemporary Manchester were widely celebrated. [i] This is evident in one of Delaney’s earliest dated works, Sunday Trade, from 1959. The scene is clearly set in Manchester with its smokestacks and factory buildings in the background. In the foreground, isolated figures make their way across an open square to a slightly less industrial-looking building. Like Lowry’s so-called “matchstick men”, Delaney’s figures are abstracted and anonymous, but they are more detailed in their clothing and more active as they move through the city. In general, his paintings are less gloomy than Lowry’s, reflecting a more positive attitude about the pleasures of urban life.
Delaney’s paintings are almost exclusively scenes of Manchester’s daily life. Factories and textile mills, trams gliding through the snowy winters or foggy mornings; workers housing and churches; public squares and the Manchester cathedral—all are recurring themes. There are occasional portraits as well, including one of L. S. Lowry in 1972 with his stark white hair and an almost van Gogh-like aura above his head, albeit in shades of green. Even more enigmatic is a 1968 canvas of John Lennon painted in the profile pose of a traditional Italian renaissance portrait. Lennon seems to be smiling at an unseen pleasure in the distance, the light glinting off his trademark round, wire-rimmed glasses. Perhaps it was painted after the Beatles completed work on the White Album that same year?
When Delaney retired from the textile studio in 1972, he turned to painting full time. Two years later the Tib Lane Gallery in Manchester hosted his first solo exhibition—everything sold at the preview. Other exhibitions followed quickly, and he began showing his work at the Royal Academy in London as well. Because of the popularity of his paintings, Delaney began producing selected images as limited edition prints, thus making them more affordable for middle-class collectors. Sadly, his life as an independent artist was far too brief; he died at age 60 on April 17, 1987.
Janet Whitmore, Ph.D.
[i] L. S. Lowry was honored in his native city with an art center called simply The Lowry. It opened in 2000 and consists of a performing arts center as well as the Salford Museum and Art Gallery which houses the largest collection of Lowry’s work in the world. For more information, see: https://thelowry.com.